It is always exciting to watch the lawn finally emerge from beneath the snow. Spring! It’s even more exciting when you have been laying low for “viral” reasons and haven’t been able to wander out and get exercise anywhere but on the side of a snow-bermed street.
It is time for me to give my yearly, general lawn advice. Follow it and yours will great. I apologize if you are already a follower. I just figure Americans have been so brainwashed with bad advice to dump fertilizer on their lawns every spring that I might as well work the same trick for the correct side of the argument.
Since the snow is just melting, let’s start with the No. 2 rule, because it applies to so many: “Stay off the lawn until it dries.” I don’t understand why you need to get your feet wet and make depressions in your lawn — you can tell it is wet without walking on it. What do you think you going to do while on on it? Rake snow mold? No. It goes away after the grass dries. Mow it? Obviously not. Play baseball or soccer? Come on.
It only takes three or four days for a snow-free lawn to dry out sufficiently so you can apply the third rule: Once the lawn is — really — dry, mow it. This is not for the grass, but rather those little branches and twigs that were blown down this winter. They contain all manner of plant-nutritious goodies that will feed your lawn’s microbes for the rest of the season. There is actually a name for the stuff: “ramial” wood. It’s very valuable in organic circles, so mulch yours in.
Should you need to run over the lawn two times to mulch everything up, then do so. It is worth it. Do not bag and don’t bother raking, either. The idea is to let this stuff decay and feed the microbes that will feed your lawn. Breaking it up with the mower starts the decaying process.
Of course, you will have to pick up the big branches that will clog your mower, the missing newspapers that will make a mess, and any tools you left out or lost over the winter. Leave anything organic you think your mower can safely chew up and spit out. If any leaves are left from the fall, mulching them up will make it much easier for the microbes and worms to do the rest of the decaying job. If you must rake, try to accumulate gatherings under your trees and then mower-mulch them over. This provides a better food for trees’ soil microbes than mere grass clippings.
On to the fourth rule: water. Once your lawn is dry and “cleaned up” by your mower, start watering it. I know, it sounds counterintuitive to wait for the lawn to dry and then water it! Still, between you and Mother Nature, give your lawns 1 to 3 inches a week. Of course, this will require setting up the hose system so that it’s easy — and ideally able to deliver warm, not cold water. A sprinkler that travels along its hose is a must for those with bigger yards. A water timer is a must for all yards.
Notice there is no rule that you rake. There is no need. You shouldn’t thatch. Thatching is to remove dead stuff from between blades of grass. If you are organic in your practices, you will never need to do it. Just water is what will make your lawn turn green.
OK, OK, The first rule to a great lawn: Do not fertilize. It really should be the easiest rule to follow, yet it requires rejection of a lifetime of pernicious advertising, which continues to this very day. Sure, there may be a time when you might want to feed your lawn. It isn’t spring. It isn’t every year. And it shouldn’t even be a consideration until after several weeks of watering — which I assure you, will turn your lawn plenty green.
Who are you going to trust? I say resist the ads and ignore the sales. They say buy XYZ and do it now. Who are you going to trust? The words in this 45-year-old weekly column or those of some actor pretending to be a yardener, but who is really only pitching something you know you don’t need?
Resist the ads. Ignore the sales. Do yourself and the world a big favor.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Nurseries: They’re open because they provide essential services.
Alaska Botanical Garden: Visit their site for news and things to do while the virus still haunts: alaskabg.org
Vegetable seeds to start in individual containers: Squash, cucumber, tomatoes
Flower seeds to start in containers: canary bird vine, silene, arctic poppy, California poppy, sunflower, morning glory, sweat pea, Shirley poppy, nasturtium, marigold, balsam, calendula, clarkia, zinnia, bachelor button, scabiosa, nemesia
Potatoes: Lay yours out and let eyes grow a bit before cutting them. Use nursery potatoes because they are virus free (different virus).
Stuff: Friends at the Mid Valley Greenhouse point out Russian tomatoes do great outside. Great suggestion: try Japanese turnips, hakurei.
Extra stuff: Please plant an extra row for the hungry.
Jeff Lowenfels’ latest book is “DIY Autoflowering Cannabis.” Perfect for the short-season gardener.
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